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Wisconsin Assembly's all-nighters targeted

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 8, 2013 at 5:53 pm •  Published: January 8, 2013
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"I drove home between 3 and 6 in the morning more times than I'd like to think," said Ziegelbauer, who lives about 2 1/2 hours from the Capitol. "It used to drive me crazy. The first couple sessions I would sit there and grind my teeth when the guy who lives 15 minutes away picks a fight that's going keep us there until 2 in the morning."

Lawmakers aren't alone in their dislike of the late nights.

"It's a huge impediment to citizen oversight of the Legislature," said Mike McCabe, director of the nonpartisan government watchdog group the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. "It leads to fewer eyes watching the Legislature, and that's never healthy."

Any solution requires cooperation from both parties and a willingness to make the change, Ziegelbauer said. It could also mean being in session more than just a day or two a week, as is typical in Wisconsin, he said.

Previous attempts to make the Assembly act more like the Senate, which is normally done by 5 p.m., have failed.

Fresh off knocking Democrats out of control of the Assembly in 1995, Republicans instituted a rule ending debate at 8 p.m. But Democrats used that to their advantage, and Republicans repealed the rule two years later.

Democrats routinely stalled debate until 8 p.m., making it more difficult for bills they opposed to be taken up, said state Sen. Luther Olsen, a Republican who was in the Assembly the two years of the curfew. Olsen said Democrats would "just talk and talk and talk" until the deadline, then start the fight anew the next morning.

David Prosser, now a Wisconsin Supreme Court justice, was speaker of the Assembly at the time. He said such rules can work.

"It seems to me a rule that ends debate at a reasonable hour, except in extreme circumstances, is a very sensible rule," Prosser said. "On the other hand, there's practical difficulty in making that rule work if everybody in the body doesn't appreciate the value of the rule."

Walker has found himself on both sides of the issue.

As a member of the Assembly in 1997, he voted with Republicans to eliminate the 8 p.m. curfew. But in his run for governor in 2010, after the Assembly pulled two all-nighters, Walker promised to sign legislation that would bar voting after 10 p.m. or before 9 a.m.

"I have two teenagers and I tell them that nothing good happens after midnight. That's even more true in politics," Walker said then. "The people of Wisconsin deserve to know what their elected leaders are voting on."